Education for Sustainable Development

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As defined by the Brundtland Commission, "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". The Brundtland Commission, formerly also known as the World Commission on Environment and Development was formed in 1983.

Author RESET , 09.17.12

As defined by the Brundtland Commission, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The Brundtland Commission, formerly also known as the World Commission on Environment and Development was formed in 1983. The rationale was to have an organization independent of the UN to formulate “a global agenda for change” that would bring together industrialized and developing nations on a common platform to chart out a course of development that would take into consideration the interrelatedness of people, resources, development and planet.

Education for Sustainable Development: Evolution and Institutional Framework

Schools students in Goa attending a workshop
As defined by the Brundtland Commission, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The Brundtland Commission, formerly also known as the World Commission on Environment and Development was formed in 1983. The rationale was to have an organization independent of the UN to formulate “a global agenda for change” that would bring together industrialized and developing nations on a common platform to chart out a course of development that would take into consideration the interrelatedness of people, resources, development and planet.
 
The Commission was represented by members of 21 nations and its first chair was Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Prime Minister of Norway. The Commission held public hearings in the capitals of 15 countries and subsequently published a report titled “Our Common Future” in 1987 that explored the ways in which political commitment and public participation can trigger a new era of economic growth that would manage environmental resources efficiently to ensure both sustainable human progress and human survival.
 
After the publication of its report, the Brundtland Commission called for an international conference to be convened to review the progress being made by nations with regard to Sustainable Development in their respective countries. This resulted in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, popularly known as the ‘Earth Summit’ which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.
 
At Rio, a global plan of action, titled ‘Agenda 21’ was developed focussing on climate change, loss of biodiversity, management of the earth’s forests and the responsibilities and rights of nations. In fact, it was Chapter 36 on Education, Awareness and Training of Agenda 21 that laid the foundation of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). It stated,“Education, including formal education, public awareness and training should be recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education is critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making. Both formal and non-formal educations are indispensable to changing people’s attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns.” Agenda 21 urged countries to develop and implement a strategy on education for sustainable development. However, only a few countries drafted policy frameworks for advancing this process at the national level as ESD was more or less relegated to the periphery of policy making in most countries.
 
In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in Johannesburg which recommended that the United Nations General Assembly consider adopting a Decade of ESD. As a result, the 57th Session of the UN General Assembly in December 2002, adopted Resolution 57/254 declaring 2005 to 2014 as the ‘Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) and designated UNESCO as the lead agency to promote it. RESET is recognised as “Decade Project” by the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development for the decade 2012/ 2013 again.

What is Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)?

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is simultaneously a sub-field of education and a conceptual tool to aid policy makers in authoring educational policies that take into account the present environmental, societal and economic challenges. According to the UNESCO, it is based on all levels and types of learning – learning to know, learning to be, learning to live together, learning to do and learning to transform oneself and society.”
 
It further says that, “Perhaps ESD can be seen as the total sum of diverse ways to arrive at a ‘learning society’ in which people learn from and with one another and collectively become more capable of withstanding setbacks and dealing with sustainability-induced insecurity, complexity and risks. From this vantage point, ESD is about – through education and learning – engaging people in sustainable development issues, developing their capacities to give meaning to SD and to contribute to its development and utilizing the diversity represented by all people – including those who have been or feel marginalized – in generating innovative solutions to SD challenges and crises.”

Why ESD?

School students during a beach clean-up in Mumbai
According to the 2010 State of the World Report (published by The Worldwatch Institute), the Ecological Footprint Indicator, which compares impact of human actions on the ecology with natural resources available to supply key ecosystem services, shows that humanity now uses the resources and services of 1.3 Earths (isn´t it 1,5 earths?). In other words, if humanity continues living the way it is, it would require a third more of Earth’s capacity than is available to sustain itself.
 
In the coming years, the number of consumers is only going to increase. This would have a direct impact on the current resource base of the world which is already under tremendous stress and depleting at a faster rate than ever before because of the growing world population and ever expanding human aspirations. It is estimated that by 2050, the human population will be 9.07 billion of which 62 per cent of the people will live in Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia.
 
The state of the environment is a reminder of what we as humans are capable of inflicting on nature, which by itself, is in perfect harmony with its elements. However, it also highlights the opportunities at hand to reverse the process of environmental decline and work for a present and future built on the principles of environmental justice, equity and humane development. In this regard, the role of education is critical as it is the cornerstone of a modern society. It not only determines the present level of progress of people of a society but also charts out the future course of advancement of the civilization. Therefore, in view of the current environmental crisis, the content of education requires restructuring. This would mean that education systems across the world would be required not only to make a person employment worthy, it would have to capacitate people with values that would help them understand their relationship with the society and environment and empower a person lead a life of contentment and satisfaction. In this context, education will have to go beyond mere transfer of information.
 
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) therefore is an important pedagogical tool as it is based on the fundamental principle of making an individual see and recognize the interdependence between human beings and each and every unit of ecology. The Brundtland Report of 1987 also made a very important point in this context stating, “Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to fulfil their aspirations for a better life.” The role of ESD, which is based on the three pillars of economy, society and environment, is critical in changing prevalent perceptions and attitudes of people towards self, society and environment.

ESD in India

A government school in Goa
Traditionally India has been a sustainable society. A large part of the Indian population still has a lifestyle that is based on the principle of reuse, reduce and recycle. In some cases it is a matter of personal choice but for a large majority, it is necessitated by economic compulsions.
 
The Government of India (GOI) has integrated the principle of ‘sustainability’ in its various policies and developmental programmes. India’s developmental strategic framework is based on a five year planning system. The first five year plan was rolled out in 1951. Presently, the soon-to-be concluded eleventh plan is underway which focuses in a big way on education.
 
In order to promote the value of sustainable development in education, the Indian government directed its various education departments to actively work on an Environment Education (EE) component as part of the curriculum. This strategy was adopted post Stockholm conference in 1972 by setting up Centres of Excellence for Environment Education under Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in the early 1980s. For a very long time, most of these activities were restricted to the MoEF but gradually the government realized that the purview of education is very broad in a developing country like India and cannot be limited to the workings of one single ministry. As a result, the GOI recommended Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to integrate environmental concerns into all aspects and levels of education.
 
India is the only country to have passed one of the landmark judgments passed by the Supreme Court of the country directing all education boards to include environmental education (EE) as part of the formal education system at all levels.
 
Besides the different ministries of the GOI, a large number of government and non-government organizations are diligently working to promote ESD. Most notable amongst them are Centre for Environment Education (CEE) which is the nodal agency for implementing UNDESD in India; The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI); Bharati Vidya Peeth (BVP); Centre for Science and Environment (CSE); World Wide fund (WWF); National Council for Science Museums (NSCM) and National Council of Education, Research and Training (NCERT). These organizations work with schools, colleges, youth groups on ESD and conduct training programmes not just for students but teachers, principals, school administrators and policy makers.
 
What is heartening is the fact that the ESD field in India is also occupied by young and passionate professionals who are working across the country to raise awareness on sustainable development issues. These professionals come from different walks of life like media, architecture, medicine, education, social work, alternative art and literature. A lot of work is being done at the grassroots level involving local communities. The latest ICT (Information, Communication, Technology) tools are being employed to connect with the upwardly mobile urban youth and to reach out to a larger audience. The Multi-national corporations are also contributing by funding projects on ESD as part of their CSR strategy. The last five years have seen a notable increase in corporate spending on CSR in India and it has slowly but certainly helped the cause of developmental initiatives in the country.

Conclusion

School students on a Beach Trail in Mumbai

The mandate of ESD is very broad. Therefore it simultaneously becomes a challenge and an opportunity. ESD provides an excellent doorway to the social, economic and environmental spheres of India and societies elsewhere to trigger awareness, analysis and action on sustainable development.

The path to ESD is an important one and countries that tread it carefully and use it to their advantage would provide its present populace and bequeath its future generations an environment that would empower them to fulfil their needs and aspirations by striking a balance between economy and ecology. Otherwise, the consequences can be mildly termed disastrous. As the noted Indian Economist and scholar, Amartya Sen points out, “a fouled environment in which future generations are denied the presence of fresh air….will remain foul even if future generations are so very rich.”

References and links:

  • Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future; http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm
  • Education for Sustainability-From Rio to Johannesburg: Lessons learnt from a decade of commitment; http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001271/127100e.pdf
  • Population 2050; http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=11
  • Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India; www.envfor.nic.in
  • Ministry of Human Resources Development; www.education.nic.in
  • The Energy and Resources Institute; www.teriin.org
  • Centre for Science and Environment; www.cseindia.org
  • Centre for Environment Education; www.ceeindia.org
  • World Wide Fund for Nature in India; www.wwfindia.org
  • Toxics Link; www.toxicslink.org
  • Centre for Environmental Research and Education; www.cere-india.org

The article is written by Supriya Singh who works at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi. She is currently part of a leadership training programme on ESD organized by GIZ in Germany and working as RESET-UNESCO intern in Berlin. She can be reached at supriya.singh@teri.res.in. Photographs used in the article are from the personal collection of the author.

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